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A Very Short Course in Wisdom (teaching by Cynthia)

The following piece entitled REDEFINING THE WAY OF THE HEART: A Very Short Course in Wisdom is reprinted with permission of the editor of The Interfaith Observer, where this article was first published on Dec 15, 2016.

by Cynthia Bourgeault

1. Wisdom is not a philosophy or a curriculum, but a way of knowing. It’s not about knowing more but knowing deeper, knowing with more of yourself involved.

Statue of Wisdom

Detail of the statue “Symbool van Wijsheid” (Symbol of Wisdom) by Pieter d’Hont in 1943 – Photo: Wikimedia Commons, brbble

2. Wisdom is three-centered knowing: it engages mind, emotions, and body in a single, integral act of perception.

3. Wisdom is state-dependent. It can only be conveyed in a state of presence, a.k.a., being. The British Wisdom teacher Maurice Nicoll expresses this idea as follows: “As your being increases, your receptivity to higher meaning increases. As your being decreases, the old meanings return.”

4. Wisdom is not the same thing as “gnosis” or “Gnosticism.” It has nothing to do with the conveyance of secret or esoteric information. Gnosticism is what happens when three-centered knowing devolves into a purely mental operation. Wisdom is 3-d, not 2-d.

5. Nor is Wisdom the same as a mystical experience. The only thing it alters is our mode of being present in the world. The progression is typically incremental and always substantiated by an increase in compassion, humility, and groundedness – those qualities traditionally described in Christianity as “the fruits of the spirit.”

6. Wisdom underlies all the great religious traditions without being exclusively confined to any of them. It is like water being poured into a number of different glasses. It can take on their shape and their coloration (and without them would simply spill on the ground). But the water remains water.

7. This is why Wisdom is the closest point of contact between the spiritual traditions. At their dogmatic and doctrinal poles, the traditions are light years away from each other. In their common ground of practice, they strongly converge.

8. Across the sacred traditions, Wisdom is distinguished by signature genres and teaching methods including parables, koans, and situational teaching (i.e., not answering a question, but putting people in a situation where they learn something for themselves.)  The goal is to overturn the egoic and mental brain and break through to that three-centered direct perception.

“…At their dogmatic and doctoral poles, the traditions are light years from each other. In their common ground of practice, they strongly converge.

9. By these measurements Jesus is clearly recognizable as a Wisdom teacher.

10. Wisdom is primarily concerned with the transformation of consciousness. It guards the threshold between small self, egoic conscousness with its compulsions and upside down perceptions, and the larger, more compassionate presence of the witnessing self that can begin to see reality as it is.

11. In the Western inner traditions (specifically, Christianity and Islam), Wisdom hinges on the transition to a different mode of perception, classically referred to as “putting the mind in the heart.” The heart is understood not as the seat of our personal emotional dramas but the organ of spiritual perception. Unlike the mind, which perceives through differentiation, the heart perceives holographically, by directly grasping the larger pattern at work.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin – Photo: Wikimedia Commons

12. The heart moves more and more firmly into this seat of spiritual perception as it is purified – i.e., liberated from its personal emotional drama and attachment and brought more and more into entrainment with the cosmic heart. This purification involves the classic practices of silence, surrender, non-identification, and compassion.

13. It also involves a physiological component, traditionally called developing “attention of the heart.” This involves the capacity to entrain the brain to the rhythm of the heart and increasingly to bear the power of undivided, objectless awareness as a direct energy of perception within the heart. As this capacity slowly develops to “bear the beames of love” (as William Blake once described it – the higher intensity of the vibrational field of divine presence), witnessing consciousness incrementally displaces mental egoic consciousness as the seat of personal identity.

 14. These radiantly transformed souls become the human embodiments of Wisdom, and only in this way is the wisdom tradition authentically transmitted.

15. And a final word from Teilhard de Chardin: “To understand the world, knowledge is not enough. You must see it, touch it, live in its presence.” This is Wisdom in a nutshell.


The Interfaith Observer (TIO)  is a free monthly digital journal created to explore interreligious relations and the interfaith movement as a whole. Other TIO articles on the topic of Wisdom can be found HERE.







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